For as long as we can remember, those looking for stress-free motoring have headed straight to Japanese brands. The D-segment, popular among family car buyers, is no different. With their time-tested reputation for good levels of comfort, practicality, affordability, and above all dependability, Japanese stalwarts such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima have had a stranglehold on the segment for decades. However, with modern American, European and Korean cars becoming more and more reliable, buyers in the market for a mid-size saloon now have a wider choice. With the Chevrolet Malibu and the Renault Talisman entering the fray with all-new iterations, we thought it would be apt to gather the two alongside the refreshed Honda Accord and argue which is best. The gloves are off!
IMRAN MALIK: What’s the point of a comparison? We all know that no matter what we conclude here, everyone out there is still going to buy the Honda. And we can’t blame them as it is a great family car; it is comfortable, roomy, has some good kit on board and isn’t bad to drive. I recently drove the V6 Sport trim and it was actually fun. You don’t usually associate that word with the Accord but there you have it. So, the Accord is the winner. The end.
SONY THOMAS: Not so fast Imran. I’m sure the V6 you drove was brilliant, don’t forget this four-cylinder version now comes mated to a — wait for it — CVT. Also there are many other contenders for the crown such as the Camry, Altima and Mazda 6. You can’t go wrong with any of these models but we’re here to find out if the crop of newbies can actually better them. There’s some good stuff from Europe and America...
IM: Unless you’ve got a Charger Hellcat and a BMW M5, I’m walking…
ST: Hmm, would a Renault Talisman and a Chevrolet Malibu interest you?
IM: No. But since we have to compare like with like, I guess I’ve got no choice.
ST: It’s not as bad as you’re making out. Just take a look at that Renault. If this comparison was based on style alone, then it would wipe the floor with the other two. It’s not at all like older Renaults. Look at that new signature grille and the sleek headlights, that high beltline and the low roofline. It oozes flair, not just on the outside, but in the cabin, too.
IM: It does have a nice interior with nicely padded seats I must say — and the front two have a massage function. Granted, it doesn’t do anything for my bad back but the Accord and Malibu don’t even have this feature. And there is a massive panoramic roof in there too that lets in lots of natural light, which makes the smart cabin appear even bigger than it is. Surprisingly, the Accord lacks this too — but the Malibu doesn’t. And speaking of the Chevy, let me point out it’s no newbie and has been around for 50 years, making it 10 older than the Accord (bet that’ll surprise a few people…). It too has a very roomy and comfortable cabin, and doesn’t appear over designed either. I like the simplicity of it. But then again, the Honda is very comfortable and aside from the double screen in the dash, I can’t really fault it.
ST: Yes, the Accord’s stylish cabin and richly upholstered seats do offer plenty of comfort, and they have rear ducts for ventilation as well. I like the layout of the cockpit as the instrumentation and controls are positioned for the driver’s convenience. It’s plain compared to the other two, but somehow, it’s a cabin that you’ll feel more at ease with than those in either of its rivals.
IM: I liked the paddle shifters in the V6 Sport — but this one doesn’t have them. Worse — it has a CVT. You know how I feel about CVTs don’t you?
ST: I don’t like them too much either but to be honest, it isn’t that bad.
IM: It sounds like it’s stuck in first gear…
ST: But the engine is so quiet you can barely tell. And did you try it in Sport?
IM: I did — and I must admit, I liked it. In fact in Sport, that transmission displayed a willingness to play along
in spirited driving but I much prefer the 3.5-litre than this 2.4. It isn’t underpowered but — and this applies to the other two as well — it lacks bite when you nail the throttle. I know, they’re four-pots and aren’t designed to provide a thrill, but I wish they all could have tried a little harder…
ST: I agree, the V6 is much better, but the majority of buyers in this segment will be more concerned about fuel economy. That’s why we’ve assembled these four-pots here. Renault has taken the interesting route of throwing a turbocharged four-cylinder into the Talisman’s engine bay, which despite being a 1.6-litre unit, makes 187bhp, which is one more than the Malibu’s 186bhp from a 2.5-litre engine, and just two less than the Accord’s 189bhp from a 2.4-litre four-banger. So, what we’re looking at here are three cars with pretty much the same power output.
IM: And they’re similar when it comes to delivery, too. They all feed the front wheels, and they’re all refined and very smooth on the move. They drive okay, but aren’t engaging in the least. You don’t remember the journey in any of these. But I know this isn’t their priority, so I can’t really complain. I can moan about the brake pedal of the Talisman, though; it is the spongiest I have ever encountered in any car. It seems like it could depress as much as the throttle!
ST: Yes, the brakes are a bit grabby and the steering is a bit too light as well. But let’s focus on the ease of driving…
IM: You mean the one you’d most likely fall asleep at the wheel of?
ST: The Renault scores points for having a turbo motor as no others in the D-segment offer a forced-induction engine, apart for Hyundai in our market.
IM: That said, it isn’t exactly exceptional in terms of dynamics is it…
ST: No. And the chassis doesn’t take abuse very well but having said that, this is a very good alternative to the Japanese models and they’ve got the pricing just right, too. The base model, which has a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated motor, will set you back Dh69,900 (the base Accord is Dh87,100) but opt for this top of the range model, and it’ll cost you Dh102,900. That really isn’t bad at all as it is seriously well equipped; with an 8.7in portrait-oriented infotainment screen, massaging front seats, ambient lighting and a panoramic roof, it has more than enough kit to keep you happy.
IM: Well, the base Malibu only costs Dh69,000 and at 2,829mm it has the longest wheelbase of the lot and this transpires to the most legroom for those at the back. You can stretch out quite comfortably in the second row of the Chevy — which has also dropped 130kg in weight over the previous model. This helps the all-new 2017 model — which now tips the scales at 1,471kg — to achieve a claimed 6.9 litres per 100km. The Accord is slightly better at 6.0 litres per 100km but the Renault is the most frugal, officially sipping just 5.8 litres per 100km. That isn’t a surprise since it is turbocharged and weighs the least, too, at 1,444kg. The Accord is the portliest here at 1,559kg but like we said, they feel very similar on the move.
ST: I agree, the Accord is the portliest, but the important thing to note is that it doesn’t feel that from the driver’s seat. And despite the CVT, the 2.4-litre engine is still smooth and doesn’t feel strained. That said, the Malibu’s 2.5-litre motor is backed by a slick six-speed automatic, and I must say the MacPherson strut front suspension and the four-link rear set-up soaks up whatever little road imperfections you encounter here with aplomb. Comparatively, the Talisman seems a bit bouncy. The Accord, like the Malibu, has a greater measure of control in this regard and when it comes to stopping power, with four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution, I’d say the Chevy wins the brake-battle.
IM: And the Accord wins the convenience features battle with that great feature called Lane Watch. It uses footage from a camera located below passenger side-view mirror to display an expanded rear view of the passenger-side road on the centre console’s secondary screen. Also, the Wide Rearview Camera offers three different viewing angles, which can be seen on the same screen. On the safety front, it has dual SRS driver and passenger airbags and side curtain airbags. It also has a tyre pressure monitoring system.
ST: The Chevy includes up-to six airbags, with available features such as Forward Collision Alert, while the Renault gets front driver and passenger airbags, and side airbags. They all have parking sensors, ABS, stability control...
IM: OK, enough talking — which one do you like the most?
ST: As good as the other two are, in my opinion, the Accord is still the best overall.
IM: See! I knew it. And guess what? I also liked the Honda more overall too — but the Malibu comes a very, very close second.
ST: Same here. But the Talisman shouldn’t feel bad about finishing third here as it is a good-looking, well-rounded model and priced very competitively. It is still a good alternative to the other two for buyers looking for distinctive looks and class-leading features. But in terms of dynamic abilities and overall driving experience it has been edged out by the other two.
IM: Right, how about next time we compare cars that have a bit more life in them?
ST: Want me to call Lamborghini?
IM: Ferrari and McLaren too...